A gearhead orgy for blockheads, Need for Speed gives carburetor dung a bad name 

The Dumbball Rally

The Dumbball Rally

Blazing across the screen like a comet streaking a trail of incompetence, Need for Speed is an actioner so bafflingly dumb it numbs your mind even as you're watching it. As much as the movie wants to be an entertaining pileup of car chases and awesome crashes, its brazen soullessness is impossible to shake off. I've never seen a movie so cool with its own overwhelming idiocy.

Based on a video game series (which should explain everything), the movie casts Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, trying desperately to appear Steve McQueen-ish, as Tobey, a street-racing mechanic/ex-con who goes on a cross-country tear to clear his name and avenge the death of one of his friends. This is all thanks to nefarious rival Dino Brewster (an accent-free Dominic Cooper, playing the sort of baddie who's evil for no reason besides the story just demands that he is), who hires him to soup up a million-dollar supercar.

He sends our hero up the river when the pair, along with Tobey's buddy, stage an impromptu race that ends with Brewster sending Tobey's buddy's car into a soon-to-be-fiery tailspin. With Brewster's car nowhere in sight, a grieving Tobey takes the fall. (BTW, this has to be the dumbest way I’ve ever seen a character framed in a movie, since the race mostly happens in broad daylight on a highway full of witnesses.)

From here, the brain-dead plotting pours on useless effort, like a driver's-ed dropout stomping the clutch and wondering why the car doesn't speed up. Paul's retribution-seeking racer gets out of jail and takes off on the road, committing a high-speed pursuit or two just to get invited to an elite road-rage rally. It's organized by Monarch (a mad-dog Michael Keaton in smart-ass mode), a recluse with a call-in Web show everyone apparently watches. And it just so happens Brewster is the chief competitor.

From that convoluted setup, you might think the movie is woefully overwritten by John Gatins (Flight, Real Steel) and his brother George. Surprise! It's actually woefully underwritten, even for a movie that exists simply to provide a live-action version of a video game. In place of anything that upgrades the characters from one-dimensional to two, the script offers only filler to appease audiences until the car chases come. When Tobey summons his old crew (which includes skinny jeans-wearing rapper Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi as his plane-flying eye in the sky), one of them starts taking off his clothes at his job because — hey, it’s funny seeing a dude walk around butt-bald-nekkid in an office building, right?

With its high-octane storyline and themes of honor and family, you'd assume Speed is ripping off the Fast and the Furious movies. But Speed is one big valentine to the car movies of the '70s. The ghosts of both Hal Needham and H.B. Halicki loom heavily over this flick, as director Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) and company use several of those filmmakers' trusted tropes. Hell, Paul’s Bandit even has his own Sally Field in the form of Imogen Poots, as a chatty British lass who awkwardly tags along for the ride.

I wish this movie was half as entertaining as those films were back in the day. Unfortunately, with its painfully extended narrative, ridiculous chase scenes and complete disregard for common sense, the only Vanishing Point here is Need for Speed's head — up its own $66 million-budgeted ass.

Email Editor@nashvillescene.com.

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